In this article I talk about the camera gear that I use for photography. My collection of tools is constantly evolving (and growing), as I always work to stay current with the best technology available today. This is all equipment that I personally own and have invested in, so there are no issues with the photographer not having access to certain gear due to rental issues. I own about $45,000-$50,000 in camera equipment.
Below is a photo of most of my key gear that I use today:
As an overall value proposition, the cost to rent my equipment from the most reputable and successful camera rental company, Lens Rentals, for just one weekend, far exceeds my own daily rate. As seen below (at the time of writing this article), Lens Rentals does not even carry my rare vintage lenses, and renting for technically one day over a weekend would cost in excess of $2,400 just for the equipment that I own that they do carry… (click image below for full itemized listing)
This is very different from having a friend with a DSLR shoot your event.
Overall, most of my equipment is from Canon. They are well known as the best for action/sports, which is why you often see guys with giant white lenses on the sidelines at professional sporting events (like the lens in the bottom left-hand corner in the image above).
Canon also (arguably) has the best stable of wide-ranging professional lenses from any manufacturer.
Having said that, I am always looking for tools to get me shots that few others can get, so recently I purchased the Sony A7s camera body and some vintage (i.e. very old) film-era lenses that can be adapted to it (more on that further below).
You’ll also notice that I have a lot of camera bodies, including some duplicates (two Canon 5D Mark IIs, two Canon 6Ds, and one Canon 7D Mark II). This is also a shooting style and philosophy that has evolved over shooting hundreds of events. I am frequently shooting action and events out of my control, and where “anything can happen”. Well, there is always an ideal lens and focal length for any given shot, so being caught flatfooted with the wrong lens on your camera means that you miss that shot. So I have more bodies that I can carry (though I regularly carry and have ready to go four at one time), so I can have multiple lenses on their own cameras set for action.
Overall, I also try to get the “fastest” (i.e. widest aperture and most expensive) lenses that I can, so that I can get clean shots in low light as well as blur out distracting backgrounds via bokeh.
All in all, just to rent the equipment I have at my disposal would probably exceed the rates I charge for my time in shooting them, so it is a great value proposition for my clients. What I can do with these tools cannot be replicated by a friend or relative with an entry-level DSLR and kit lens. This kind of professional equipment is expensive for a reason (I started with Canon Rebels and kit lenses, and while you can get some great shots, there is a world of difference in the capabilities).
Even an iPhone can take a great photo, if you have good lighting and you are okay with *everything* being in clear focus, from the subject to the background. Recently I was at Fleetwood’s in Maui, and took a photo with my iPhone 6 Plus of a drink on the table (for Facebook), and, for fun, I took the same photo (slightly different framing and distance) with my super low light Sony A7s with an extremely rare film-era manual vintage lens – the Canon 50mm f/0.95 “Dream Lens” – mounted on it…
You can see that there are worlds of difference in the result (click image for higher resolution comparison):
Below I will talk a little more about some of the key pieces of equipment in more detail…
The Sony A7s: Sony’s remarkable new full frame camera can use pretty much any lens ever made, from any manufacturer, assuming an adapter exists so that it can be properly mounted. While all of the Sony A7 series can do this with varying degrees of success, the A7s is designed to work in unimaginable low light levels. The A7s has a groundbreaking ISO range of 100 – 409,600, and can literally see what the human eye cannot. Part of the trade off is that its sensor is only 12 megapixels, though they are “fat” megapixels, which give the files a different, richer look.
One other special feature of the A7s is that it features an option to employ a completely silent shutter – if enabled, it makes absolutely no sound, which can been an amazing feature if needed for a quiet event.
Combined with vintage lenses, it can be used for a variety of special uses. I originally purchased this exclusively for use with the vintage Canon 50mm f/0.95 “Dream Lens”, which is in itself incredibly sensitive to light, and also produces amazing bokeh. I have a few other lenses as well, as described below.
(Vintage) Canon 50mm f/0.95 Lens: This is definitely the most interesting lens I have ever used. This extremely rare lens was produced in Japan in limited quantity (due to the high manufacturing cost) in the ’60s and ’70s, and is very hard to find in quality condition today. Those that have survived over the years often sell on eBay for $2,000-$5,000, depending on condition.
The one that I have was exclusively used in medical diagnostic imaging equipment designed to take photos/films during heart catheterizations and angiograms. This lens was installed on a camera, focused with proper aperture, and encased in a sealed housing unit. Thereafter, only once a year during annual preventive maintenance the lens focus was checked and fine tuned if necessary, so it was adjusted 15-20 times in it’s lifespan prior to my purchase.
As a portrait lens, it is peerless in it’s “look” and bokeh effect, and combined with the “fat” pixels of the Sony A7s, is capable of creating completely unique photos that cannot be replicated with modern day lenses and/or post production software – the effects happen “in the lens”. Used properly, it can make the background behind the subject look like a pastel or oil painting. Truly painting with light.
(Vintage) Meyer-Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f/2.8: This is another vintage lens I bought for use on the Sony A7s. After a great deal of research, I felt this and the Canon 50mm f/0.95 had the most interesting and unique “look” to their images. With regard to the Meye-Optik, it has more of a psychedelic/unpredictable bokeh effect. The Meyer Trioplan is a very outdated “classic triplet” design (characterized by three strong lens elements separated by sizable air spaces); it is a relatively modern version of the “Cooke triplet” which was developed by H. Dennis Taylor 1893. This was briefly manufactured in Germany circa the early 1950s. My copy is in excellent condition, and does not appear to have seen much use.
Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2 Lens II: This is a modern lens purchased for use on my Sony A7s. Manual but with such a wide aperture bokeh can be employed (rare at a 35mm focal length). Beautiful images with a classic look with vintage character.
Canon: As mentioned, most of my gear is Canon platform, and all but two lenses are Canon brand “L” lenses (their professional line).
Canon EOS 5D Mark III: I have two Canon 5D Mark III camera bodies. These are my primary two camera bodies, and are an excellent light weight, full frame camera.
Canon EOS 6D: I have two Canon 6D camera bodies. These are my secondary two camera bodies for circumstances in which time is of the essence, and allows for having more cameras with lenses attached at the ready. These are mostly the same as the 5D Mark IIIs, only with a less sophisticated focus system (which can be irrelevant based on my style of shooting) and one less memory card slot, with slightly less frames per second.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II: I have one of the newly released Canon 7D Mark II camera bodies. This is more of a special use body. It has an APS-C “cropped” sensor, which means the full frame lenses have more “reach” (can get closer to the subject), but the sensor is smaller, so it does not perform quite as well as the 5D Mark III and 6D in low light situations. However, it can shoot 10 frames per second, compared to the 5D Mark III’s 6 frames per second and the 6D’s 4.5 frames per second. It does not miss a shot.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens: This is the first of my two non Canon-branded lenses for my Canon cameras. Sigma has in the past two years launched a new high end “Art” brand of lenses, the first being this 35mm f/1.4. I used to own the Canon “L” equivalent, and compared them directly and found the Sigma to be superior, with more brightness and a better image and sharpness across the frame. As a “prime” lens (fixed focal length) and a “fast” lens (at f/1.4), it produces a very high quality image and performs with fast and accurate auto-focus.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens: This is the second of my two non Canon-branded lenses for my Canon cameras. As with the 35mm prime lenses, Sigma launched a new high end “Art” version at 50mm and f/1.4. I used to own the Canon “L” equivalent, which was actually faster at f/1.2, and compared them directly and found the Sigma to be superior, with more brightness and a better image and sharpness across the frame. As a “prime” lens (fixed focal length) and a “fast” lens (at f/1.4), it produces a very high quality image and performs with fast and accurate auto-focus.
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: One of Canon’s most specialized lenses, the 14mm f/2.8 has a fixed 114° field of view. This is Canon’s widest “L” series rectilinear lens. Most people use wide angle lenses to “fit it all in”, but I’ve found that they can be used to get really interesting shots when the subject is close (by their nature, super wide angle lenses such as this push things back from how you see with the naked eye). An amazing piece of glass (and pricey at around $2,200). NOTE: This will be replaced at the end of February 2015 with the newly announced Canon 11mm-24mm f/4 (retail $3,000), which will now be the world’s widest rectilinear lens.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM: Maybe Canon’s most legendary lens, this is probably the most impressive portrait lens ever made. With all the glass, it weighs a ton and is S-L-O-W to autofocus (moving around that aforementioned glass), but the results are nothing short of stunning in the right hands. The lead optical engineer and designer of this lens was himself a fashion photographer, and it was intended to be the ultimate tool in that world, and most agree that it was a success. And at f/1.2, it has the added benefit of seeing in the dark.
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens: Another specialty prime (fixed focal length) lens, the 135mm f/2.0 is very fast for the long reach of the lens, and produces excellent portrait images.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens: One of three zoom lenses in my bag, this one covers the very wide end at 16mm up through the standard focal length of 35mm, all at a continuous aperture of 2.8 at the wide end. NOTE: This will be replaced at the end of February 2015 with the newly announced Canon 11mm-24mm f/4 (retail $3,000), which will now be the world’s widest rectilinear lens.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens: The second of my three zoom lenses, this one also features a fixed aperture of f/2.8 on the wide end. The image quality is exceptional.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens: The third of my three f/2.8 zoom lenses, this one covers 70mm to 200mm. If I could only own one lens, this would be it – my favorite lens. Fantastic image quality, and excellent for portraits. Paired with the 1.4X and 2X extenders below and/or mounted on the Canon 7D Mark II above (with a 1.6X crop factor), it’s reach can be extended quite a bit.
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens: Generally regarded as Canon’s highest quality and “best” lens throughout their production line, it is peerless in it’s image quality, and like with the 70-200mm f/2.8, can reach much further than it’s fixed 300mm focal length via the extenders and mounted on the Canon 7D Mark II. It is the most expensive piece of glass in my collection (retail price is $6,599.00). Excellent for use during wedding ceremonies with silent shutter employed on the camera, as it makes for high quality distance photography with quiet discretion.
Canon Extender EF 2X III & Canon Extender EF 1.4X III: This can be paired with lenses to extend their reach, with a trade off in some reduction in stops and quality, depending on the lens it is attached to (the work best with the Canon 300 f/2.8 II).